Scientists complete major survey of Irish seabed


ONE of the biggest seabed surveys ever carried out on the Irish continental shelf has been completed by Irish scientists who arrived back in Dublin yesterday.

On the 25 day survey they mapped out the topography of an area 2 1/2 times the size of Ireland, with equipment similar to that used to locate the wreck of the Titanic. "The sea is the unknown final frontier and what we're doing is like Star Trek," said Mr Geoffrey O'Sullivan of the Marine Institute, which supported the project.

The survey findings, which will take a year to analyse, will have major implications for fishing, environmental management and oil and gas exploration, Mr O'Sullivan said. "We're like explorers of the Royal Geographical Society seeing Africa for the first time," he said.

Mr Raymond Keary of the Geological Survey, one of the co ordinators of the survey, said: "It represents a significant advance in our study of offshore Ireland, though a lot remains to be done to map this vastly under explored region.

The surveyors found previously unknown features on the seabed including "carbonate mounds" which provided what was termed a whole ecological system based on methane gas".

Other discoveries included 15 "submarine canyons" along the edge of the Rockall Trough. "According to current maps the western edge of the Rockall Trough is very smooth," said Mr O'Sullivan, adding that these canyons showed a different situation where various species of fish might be located.

"Mud slumps" from the shelf edge moving into the deep basin of the trough were also discovered and according to the Marine Institute would have very important implications if cables were being laid in that area.

"We have a very large continental shelf and we know very little about it," Mr O'Sullivan said. "We should be staking our claim in this area so we can encourage and lead others in developing a strategy for marine resources, rather than having the EU coming along and telling us they'll do it for us.

The surveyors, on the vessel Siren, used the most up to date equipment which they had temporary access to through EU research funds. The equipment used was called GLORIA (Geological Long Range Inclined Asdic) a long range side scan sonar system similar to that used to survey the entire US Exclusive Economic Zone. It enabled them to map one fifth of the continental shelf in just 25 days.

Welcoming the survey vessel and crew home last night, the Minister for the Marine, Mr Barrett, said he believed "we are entering one of the most exciting phases in Irish marine research to date". The information collected would be collated into an invaluable database.